Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur understands the questions that come with him playing against nemesis Sean Avery in Wednesday night's game against the Dallas Stars at Prudential Center. That doesn't mean he's placing a lot of emphasis on facing the former Rangers' pest, though.
When asked today if the Devils had some unfinished business from last year to settle on Wednesday, Brodeur replied, "With the Rangers?"
"It's a hockey game we need to win," Brodeur said. "We haven't been at home for a while and haven't played in a while, so all of this thing around him coming back is not something that's on our priority list, that's for sure. It's about winning the hockey games. We have to deal with him for just a couple of games this year. That's an improvement from last year when we had to deal with him for 13 games."
Brodeur wasn't sure if there would be the "circus" atmosphere Wednesday there was in some of the games against Avery when he played for the Rangers last season.
"I don't know," Brodeur said. "We'll see. Every game is different. Sometimes you expect certain things and it doesn't happen and sometimes you expect it and it's even worse. Who knows what's going to happen tomorrow. It's last year's rivalry with the Rangers. He was part of it and it made it hard because he was playing for the Rangers, but if he would have been playing for somebody else, it probably never would have been that big of an impact. That's the bottom line.
"He's a talented player. He served his purpose. That's about it."
Devils coach Brent Sutter declined to talk today about Avery and how his team should handle him.
"I'm not even talking about Sean Avery today," Sutter said. "We're here to play the Dallas Stars. That's what we're preparing to do."
Avery left the Rangers on July 2 to sign a four-year, $15.5 million contract with the Dallas Stars. Brodeur said he only saw the highlights of Avery's return to Madison Square Garden on Monday night. He did not see Avery yapping at Henrik Lundqvist and Steve Valiquette during warm-ups, something Avery did to Brodeur last season.
"I didn't really see that," Brodeur said. "I saw him stick (Scott Gomez) in the face once."
Brodeur compared facing Avery on Wednesday to the Devils' first game against Tie Domi and the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2001-02 after Domi knocked out Scott Niedermayer in the 2001 playoffs in Toronto.
"It's the same thing," he said. "It's always something. When a guy affects your team in a certain area, when he comes back for the first time people are making a big deal."
Rookie enforcer Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, who as called up Monday because Bobby Holik is out for 3-4 weeks with a broken pinky and will play in his first NHL game on Wednesday, said he won't go looking to fight Avery to make an impression on his teammates and coaches.
"No, not really," he said. "I don't have comments on that. That's from last year. If the guy is looking for trouble, I'm his man, but I don't want to go looking around for that."
As he told me last week, Brodeur said again today that his feelings toward Avery have not changed from last season when he refused to shake his hand at the end of the Devils-Rangers' playoff series because of the personal insults Avery threw at him throughout the season.
"It is what it is with him," Brodeur said. "He's the type of player that if he's on your team everybody loves him." Brodeur laughed as he added, "I'm not even sure of that either.
Avery's most famous run-in with Brodeur came during Game 3 last season's playoff series between the Devils and Rangers. During a 5-on-3 Rangers' power play, Avery stood in front of the net and faced Brodeur while waving his hands and stick in his face to try to block his vision. The NHL altered the definition of the unsportsmanlike conduct minor the next day to include such behavior.
Brodeur didn't think the league changed a rule because of Avery.
"It was always there," he said. "I don't think they changed everything. You just got to pay attention to the ways of doing certain things. You look at (Aaron) Voros. He's doing a pretty good job at it without (doing what Avery did). He stands in front and takes a beating and tips the puck. A lot of good players did it the right way of playing hockey without crossing the line."